And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:37
I have known the story of David and Goliath most of my life. It is possibly one of the most familiar stories in all of scripture. We use it every time we need to illustrate an unlikely hero overcoming impossible odds to defeat a seemingly unstoppable foe. So, as I am studying 1 Samuel 17 this week, thinking about the “foes” whom Christ followers face in our current culture, I am asking myself, “Today, who/what is the church’s Goliath?” The list of possibilities is long. I think I have the winner, but first, here are some things that are NOT our Goliath:
- Different worldviews from ours are NOT our Goliath. Whether it is the Muslim world, or atheists, or people who vote differently from you in national elections, our Biblical worldview does not mean our struggle is with these groups. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…Eph. 6:12;
- A culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity is NOT our Goliath. It is a fact: from a global perspective, persecution of Christians is at an all-time high. And, though we in the U.S. would be hard-pressed to call our difficulties “persecution” at this point, we have certainly seen the needle moving in that direction as anti-Christian sentiment seems to grow stronger with each news cycle. Nevertheless, we really must stop acting so shocked and surprised by this. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first… you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:18-19
- Change is NOT our Goliath. I almost did not bother writing this one, but I know I must still say this. As followers of Christ, especially those of us with much invested in the institutions of Christianity, we really must quit fearing change. Christianity, after all, was never intended to be an institution…it was intended to be a revolution. The Jesus of the Bible was constantly moving and was constantly challenging the status quo. We simply cannot follow Christ and, at the same time, insist on staying where we are.
No, I would argue that none of those things listed above (which admittedly do keep us up at night more often than we care to admit) are our adversaries for which we will require God’s hand in order to stand. I believe our adversary is much, much stronger than any of those forces. And much more insidious. I believe the church’s “Goliath” today is our own contentment.
We are content with how much of God we already have or already understand. Indeed, in many cases, we are quite proud to show how much we already understand. And that contentment mocks an unsearchable, infinite God Who desires a growing, intimate relationship with us. That contentment stands in defiance of all that God wants for us and from us, and it is a formidable foe.
We are content with the tiny sliver of God’s power at work in our lives and in the life of the church. We have 7% growth in church and we have met our budget each of the last several years, and we thank God for that and work to maintain that standard. There is nothing God-sized about it, but we are pleased with it. After all, it is better than most churches.
We have grown content with the small glimpses of spiritual growth we see in our people. A member reconciles with her husband, an elder publicly rededicates his life to the Lord, an addict celebrates his recovery, thanks to the support of his small group; all of these are good signs that the Spirit of God is with us and we celebrate that and then work to keep everything just like it is.
Our people rest comfortably in their contentment as well; comfortable with the friends they already have, feeling no need to forge new friendships. Comfortable with our lack of genuine community with one another, lack of authenticity in relationships, and overall lack of unity. Comfortable (even impressed) with our current understanding of scripture, so that there is no felt need to dive deeper, no thirst for more. Comfortable with our current level of personal accountability, so that we do not feel “pressured” to actually be better or to actually grow closer to Christ. We are comfortable with everything just as it is in the church, content to simply preserve what we have.
Our contentment is our “Goliath”, standing on the battle line of spiritual warfare and laughing at our smallness and our pompous celebrations of self-achievement. Our contentment looms over us, leaving us utterly hopeless of defeating it on our own. Pastors and church leaders all around the world recognize its ugly visage and work feverishly while taunted and frustrated by it. This is our “Goliath”. The question is, how do we defeat it? What do we say to our contentment which stands over us, scoffing at us?
“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand.” 1 Samuel 17:45-47
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